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Utah school board ousts superintendent of deaf, blind schools

Published January 10, 2013 4:55 pm

Education • Steve Noyce unsure why he wasn't reappointed for next school year.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The state school board decided Thursday not to reappoint Steve Noyce as superintendent of the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind for next school year.

Debra Roberts, state school board chairwoman, declined to discuss Thursday why the board decided not to continue Noyce's appointment, citing privacy concerns. She said there was no wrongdoing.

The board discussed the issue in a closed session before voting unanimously, in open session, not to renew Noyce's appointment. Roberts said the board has been discussing the issue for months.

Noyce said Thursday he was alerted that he might not be reappointed, but he didn't know why. He said he had hoped to continue in his position for another school year and then retire.

"There's been long-standing controversies at the school," said Noyce, who has served in the position since 2009. "I don't imagine that's the reason, though, because, frankly, for the last 18 months things have been very, very quiet."

Noyce has been a target of criticism since before he even started overseeing the schools, which serve about 2,000 students.

For years, some parents have alleged Noyce favored listening-and-spoken language instruction for deaf children at the expense of traditional instruction in American Sign Language (ASL).

Listening-and-spoken language instruction has been growing in popularity thanks to cochlear impacts and digital hearing aids that can help students recover or amplify their hearing. Listening-and-spoken language students may ultimately be returned to mainstream classrooms.

Advocates of ASL, however, say it's better suited to visual learners, binds together the deaf community and helps support a deaf identity.

Some ASL advocates have felt that the schools' young students weren't given enough time to explore both paths so their families might make the best individual choices. They felt families were asked to choose one or the other too soon. About 40 percent of those the school serves are infants and children up to age 3.

Noyce, however, denied Thursday that he favored one approach over another. He said the school created an orientation video for families and sends two adults, one from each pathway, to visit families to make sure they understand their options.

"I think we've gone to incredible lengths to make sure families are given enough information to make informed choices," Noyce said.

Roberts said it's difficult to remember a time when there wasn't controversy at the Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind (USDB).

"It's a very challenging assignment," Roberts said of being a leader at USDB. "It's very challenging to meet the needs of the kids there."

The board voted to begin a search for Noyce's replacement immediately. Noyce said he'll now likely retire.